A lot has changed for the Virginia Cavaliers football team heading into the 2022 season. New head coach, entirely new coaching system, many new faces. Generally, that points to a bit of a down season. Bronco Mendenhall went 2-10 in his first season. Mike London went 4-8, Al Groh went 5-7. Even George Welsh went 2-9 in his first season. Usually, a new coach is around because the old coach wasn’t good enough.
That’s not exactly the case this time around. Bronco left of his own accord and Tony inherited a program that went 6-6 last season and was selected for a Bowl game. The biggest news during the offseason was the return of QB Brennan Armstrong. Some thought he might leave for the NFL.
As a third year starter, he gives the offense some continuity as well as leadership. The importance there, with a new coaching staff, cannot be understated.
Let’s take a look at Armstrong and the rest of the QB depth chart.
Easiest section in any Virginia Football preview this season. Brennan Armstrong broke a ton of records last season and his return makes things easier on everybody.
Here are the records Armstrong broke in 2021:
Single-season pass yards: 4449 (previous record 3538)
Singe-season Completions: 326 (previous record 320)
Single-season TD passes: 31 (previous record 28)
Single-season 200 yard passing games: 11 (previous record 9)
Single-season total offense: 4700 (previous record 4307)
Single game passing yards: 554 (previous record 455) - Armstrong actually broke this record 3 times in 2021.
Single game total offense: 538 (previous record 490) - Armstrong broke this record twice last season.
Brennan is just 678 yards from passing Matt Schaub for the all time UVA passing record. And he is just 190 yards from Bryce Perkins’ total offense record. Safe to say both of those are going to fall early this season.
Here are three highlights that pretty well sum up Armstrong’s season.
Armstrong can throw the deep ball. This was just one example. This ball is thrown where only Wicks can get it, and it’s right where it needs to be.
Armstrong also has the arm strength and accuracy to hit his guys on the move in small windows. This is good coverage, but a better throw from the southpaw.
And the final highlight shows how athletic and mobile Armstrong is. He’s no Perkins running the football, but he’s also no Schaub running the football either. He can run, and he’s tough to bring down.
There wasn’t much running from Armstrong in the early parts of the season, as Brennan was dealing with a knee injury. Against Georgia Tech, Armstrong rushed for 99 yards on 12 carries. Against BYU, it was 94 on 11 carries.
Armstrong left the BYU game early with a rib injury, and his running suffered after that. He missed the Notre Dame game, and then totaled -15 yards (yes, negative) rushing yards on 16 carries in the final two games, both losses.
That is the only issue with Armstrong. His running ability and his competitiveness make him prone to injury. If Virginia is going to have a successful season, it’s going to be Armstrong leading the way. If he misses time, Virginia is in trouble.
That isn’t really a knock on the projected backup, sophomore Jay Woolfolk. He may be capable, we just don’t know. We didn’t see much out of him last year. His only extended play came against Notre Dame and did not look good. He’s far from the first young QB to struggle against Notre Dame.
Not much Woolfolk could do here. It’s 3rd and long, the Irish show blitz and then bring five. Nobody is open immediately, and Woolfolk is running for his life as soon as he finishes his drop. It’s not a great play-call against an aggressive defense facing a young QB. A quicker drop and throw may not pick up the necessary yards, but at least helps Woolfolk get comfortable.
Here’s an example of a better play-call in a similar situation.
Again, the Irish bring pressure. But this time it’s three steps and throw. Keytaon Thompson is open and picks up the first down.
In the game, Woolfolk completed 18/33 passes for 196 yards and 2 INT. He rushed for 15 yards on 16 carries. On the season, Woolfolk completed 22/41 for 245 yards and those 2 INTs. Outside of the ND game, that was largely garbage time. He rushed for 72 yards on 24 carries as well.
We saw Armstrong run similar plays early in his career when spelling Bryce Perkins. Woolfolk looks so smooth running the ball.
Right now, it seems Woolfolk’s running ability is ahead of his passing ability. His ability, not his arm, mind you. He’s got a very strong arm. If you’ve seen him play baseball, you can attest to that.
Sure, this is a football preview, but that’s fun to watch.
One of the bigger questions heading into this year is the growth of Woolfolk. As mentioned, Armstrong is a bit prone to injury due to his playing style. Having a backup who can come in for a play, a series, or even a game, and be successful would be enormous for this team.
Of course, Woolfolk isn’t the only option behind Armstrong. Coach Elliott brought in two QB recruits in this freshman class, as he tries to fill the cupboard with options. Let’s take a look at them in alphabetical order.
Delaney Crawford - 6’2” 193 - Three stars from Corona, CA
When Crawford signed, he was listed at 180 lbs. He’s up to 193 now, which is important. You really just can’t play QB at this level if you’re that slight. Crawford is obviously working hard in the weight room, and that should continue. Getting him up to around 210 will be important for his development. Armstrong plays at 210 and Woolfolk is listed at 208.
But Crawford has speed that neither of those guys have. Crawford has run a 10.5 100m and ran the fastest 300m hurdles in the nation last year (36.64). He’s seriously quick and athletic and it shows in his highlight reel.
The first play in that reel is a game winning TD on the final play. But really, most of the highlights are of Crawford running with the football. He is a very dangerous runner, and at this point in his career is a better runner than passer. It isn’t out of the question that Crawford will move to WR (or RB) in his career, if he can’t crack the depth chart at QB.
Davis Lane - 6’1” 188 - Three stars from Lynchburg, VA
Like Crawford, Lane also runs track. His personal best in the 100m is 11.01. Not as fast as Crawford, but still quite fast. Also like Crawford, Lane is slight and needs to hit the weights.
Lane’s highlight reel has more throws and fewer runs, but he still appears to be more of a runner than a passer at this stage in his career.
As with Crawford, he has the potential to play another position if he doesn’t work out at QB.
With Armstrong around this year, and Woolfolk behind him, Coach Elliott has time to work with both Lane and Crawford and figure out which of them is the QB of the future for the ‘Hoos.